Richard and I, and our friends Barbara and Katherine, went to see *Two Boys* at the Met. This is the new opera by American composer Nico Muhly, who's been getting a lot of press because he's a tender 32 years old. Richard and I went to an evening of his music at the American Songbook Series at Lincoln Center, sometime around six years ago, and it was a knockout. The centerpiece of that concert was a delightful setting of excerpts from *The Elements of Style* for chorus, piano, strings, and wacky little instruments (pots and pans, etc). A delight. The greatest piece on the program was a folk song setting for a sort of country singer, piano, cello, and maybe banjo? It was stunning, the storytelling was on a very high level, it was a thrilling piece, unforgettable. I thought, "This guy is an opera composer."
The Met commissioned him to write this opera, as part of their commissioning project with Lincoln Center Theatre, and he's the first composer from that group to have his piece performed at the Met (Rufus Wainwright had his opera done elsewhere, but that's another story). Karen Miller and I saw Muhly's previous opera at Gotham Chamber Opera last year. It was about a group of sister wives being extracted from a cult. It was called *Dark Sisters*, but we thought it should have been called *Dull Stories*. We left at the intermission, it just too dull. The music was listenable, but who cares.
*Two Boys* had its premiere at English National Opera last year, where it got mixed reviews, I might even say polite reviews. It was revised a bit before its Met premiere. Let me tell you a little bit about the story: it's based on a true story from around 2001, about a 16-year old English boy stabbing a 13-year old English boy to death. His motive for the murder was very convoluted and involved the younger boy creating false identities in chat rooms, and manipulating the older boy into killing him. The libretto is by playwright Craig Lucas.
Do you want the good news first? The performances were all very strong, Alice Coote in particular, in the leading role of the police detective, which everyone says is like Helen Mirren's character on *Prime Suspect* (which I never saw). She sang beautifully, very expressive singing. Paul Appleby was also good, as the older boy, the murderer. The other singers were wonderful, and the chorus was brilliant. The music was appealing, the writing for the orchestra was inventive, and the vocal writing was idiomatic and a pleasure to hear (also, I imagine, a pleasure to sing). And it felt good to see a new opera, and on such a contemporary story. Lots of young people there, many under 40 (at least where we sat, in the nosebleeds).
OK, now the bad news. It was not dramatic. The story didn't draw us in. It felt longer than it was, and there was a bit of waiting for it to be over. I think the words, "Just kill him already!" went through my mind sometime in the second act. The director (Bartlett Sher) did his best, by adding a slithering dance ensemble, and having words projected on the set, but these things do not create drama. The drama has to be in the story and in the music, and it just wasn't.
But it was a very serious work, and it was a hell of a lot better than *Dark Sisters* - - at least we made it through the whole show. I'm definitely curious to see his next opera. Hope springs eternal.